Section 1 - Start Here
In order for you to appreciate the value of isometric training, it will be necessary to briefly discuss some basic anatomical principles of muscular contraction. To start with, all skeletal muscles consist of three main fiber types. These fiber types are listed below:
1) Slow twitch fibers - Responsible for the endurance and strength of a muscle.
2) Fast twitch fibers - Responsible for the speed and strength of a muscle.
3) Intermediate twitch fibers - Possess qualities of both slow and fast twitch fibers.
In most muscles, these fibers are intermingled. However, there is usually a predominance of one or the other. For example, in postural muscles of the spine, the slow twitch fibers dominate. This is because slow twitch fibers can undergo extensive repetitive contractions without fatigue.
In non-postural limb muscles like the arms and legs, the fast twitch fibers dominate. This allows for powerful forces to be generated over a short period of time.
All of these fiber types are arranged into groups known as motor units. A motor unit is defined as one motor neuron and all the muscle fibers it supplies. There are many motor units within the overall muscle.
When a muscle begins to contract, an action potential is carried down the motor neuron across the motor endplate to the muscle fibers it supplies. Initially, only some of the motor units become active. As the demand on the muscle increases, more and more motor units are recruited to help support this demand. As the demand on the muscle decreases, the number of motor units also decreases. This is a general description of muscular contraction.
With isometric training, a muscle opposes some form of resistance and is contracted to a certain length and then held for a certain period of time, usually 10 seconds or more. There are no repetitions required here as in weight training.
The biggest advantage to this type of training is twofold. First, by forcing your muscles to hold a position for a certain length of time, your body starts to recruit more and more motor units to help maintain this contraction. Motor units that are rarely exercised within a muscle are now brought into use, perhaps for the first time.
Second, the motor units that are recruited are forced to hold their contraction continuously, time after time, until your muscles achieve a state of maximum intensity safely and effectively. The end result is that the entire muscle matures very quickly.